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Film review: TRANCE, from Built For Speed

Trance, the latest film from Trainspotting director Danny Boyle is a brain-boggling psychological thriller with more than a passing resemblance to Chris Nolan’s Inception.

James McEvoy plays art auctioneer, con-artist and gambling addict, Simon, who steals a priceless painting, Goya’s “Witches Flight”, hoping it will pay off a gambling debt owed to gangster Franck (Vincent Cassel). When the heist goes awry and the injured and amnesiac Simon forgets where he stashed the painting, Franck enlists a hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to delve into Simon’s psyche in the hope of extracting the painting’s whereabouts. The psychological excavation, however, unearths a lot more than anyone expects.

What begins as a compelling thriller reminiscent of Boyle’s acclaimed big screen directorial debut Shallow Grave soon becomes a much more complex beast.  As Elizabeth explores the avenues of Simon’s mind, the film’s characters, their relationships and the world they inhabit soon becomes very murky.  As with Inception it becomes increasingly uncertain if what we’re seeing is real or part of a hypnotic trance.

At first this descent into the psychological rabbit hole is tense, riveting and highly inventive. Unfortunately, the film stretches the bounds of plausibility a little too far.  There are so many detours and sidesteps, Trance seems to forget where it’s going.  We know there’s a problem with a film when a large chunk of time is spent with a character (in this case Elizabeth) trying to spell out what’s going on like Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers movies. As the film’s various layers are peeled away it seems there’s not much at the centre of this story and that it’s mainly an exercise in style over substance.

Still, that style is pretty impressive as Boyle infuses the film with a striking look and sound including sleek, shiny, colour-coordinated production design, clever integration of computer technology and loud, intense pulsating synth music. It is also important to note that the film contains some disturbingly violent images, particularly when Franck’s hoods try to extract a confession from Simon.

Despite the fact that their characters are all wandering around in a confusing psychological labyrinth, the three leads deliver fine performances. McEvoy is believably sneaky and calculating but still sympathetic as the embattled Simon while Vincent Cassel unnerves with his menacing combination of cool intelligence and barely restrained fury.  Best of all though is Rosario Dawson who makes the doctor a convincing mix of clinical professional, feisty heroine and sultry femme fatale.

It’s a clever, intriguing and at times stunning film but someone needed to rein in the scriptwriters as they’ve not just twisted the plot but tied it in a knot.  Consequently Trance is unlikely to gain anything like the response afforded Trainspotting and can probably only expect a cult audience.

Nick’s rating: Three stars.

Classification: MA.

Director(s): Danny Boyle

Release date: 4th April 2013

Running time:  101 mins.

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